When you fight monsters, you must be careful not to become one : talking about Anonymous in the classroom

When students pop up with the trademark of Anonymous on their desktops, I start to wonder whether it’s time to have a real discussion about it.

I’ve just sat and watched the BBC Storyville program about the group and was determined not to approach it with any pre-conceived ideas. Except I did if I’m totally honest. I see myself as an Internet savvy individual and someone who generally knows their stuff having worked and studied computer science and IT related areas for years. But, I am someone who has only come across Anonymous from the negative standpoint, and certainly whilst I find a certain amount of 4Chan amusing, they regularly push my envelope of decency over the table and into a puddle of dank water.

So why am I back to considering discussing the role of Anonymous with my students again? Because this program made me stop and think. Really think about the movement and why this might appeal to the younger generation and what this may mean for them.

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Is this now something that we ought to be discussing as part of PSHE? Not whether they should take part or not – that is a whole other discussion – but the history of the movement, and some of the lessons which can be learnt from what happens when people act as a group to oppose something that is perceived to be immoral. I am aware that there is no way I could show my students the actual program (the language used was enough to make even me raise an eyebrow), but it raised so many discussion points and the involvement of the movement in the recent Arab Spring to provide a means of communication just hasn’t been reported. Why is that?

It’s almost a lesson in the effect that the media has on our impression of groups in itself. I still can’t morally accept that a DNS attack is acceptable on a personal level, and the jump between memes and activism seems a very big jump (although humour is a good way to propagate an idea), but I can see why people who have strong beliefs would want to use the Internet to create a space for protest. In a way, that’s what I’m doing here – I’ve created a little bit of the Internet for my own thoughts, uncensored and laid bare for whoever happens to see them.

The title of this post is actually a quote from one of the ‘hacktivists’ when debating where Anonymous will go next. The offshoots of the group have created some seriously bad press for them in the media (especially in the UK), and the feelings linked with the group are often uneasiness with a group that attacks people when in fact it seems that the soul of the group is actually promoting free speech whatever your opinion may be.

This is not a new phenomenon.

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – Voltaire [François Marie Arouet] (1694–1778)

For now, I think I need some time to mull over the questions popping up all over the place and work out a way to integrate a balanced discussion into the classroom. Is that possible? I don’t know.

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